Thursday, September 8, 2011

Entrepreneurs and The Cult of Stubbornness

Definition of Stubborn adj.\ˈstə-bərn\
1. Having or showing dogged determination not to change
one's attitude or position on something, esp.
in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.
2. Difficult to move, remove, or cure.

See also, 'Being a Dick.'  
I will admit that I am stubborn. From early childhood I was usually convinced that my way was the right way. My Lego airplane was perfect (even if it did have one wing twice as large as the other), my own special way of doing algebra was the right way, and so on. That carried over into adulthood, and on occasion, it still rears it's ugly head.
However, in advertising and design you need to let go of the ownership of ideas and realize that sharing, collaborating and refining a vision many times results in a much better outcome.
That is probably true in most life decisions, but for this post, I will limit it to simply my profession.
Over time, I came to the realization that letting go of my stubbornness, embracing new ideas and swallowing my pride in ideas usually led to more success.
That brings me to today's lesson kids.

In fact, the entrepreneurial community teaches and rewards stubbornness. It is a cultural problem as much as an individual problem. Institutions that breed founders of startups, the great MBA programs, the tech startups, the incubators and the entrepreneurial foundations ALL reward and admire stubbornness. They may mask it in business speak or call it a 'can do' attitude, but ultimately, it is stubbornness that hurts them.

Let me give you a recent example. While consulting with some of the most talented new entrepreneurs selected from over 1,100 applicants the number one refrain was "Your idea is the best." The second message was "Don't let anyone tell you it will fail." Waaaaaaay down the list of ideas taught where "listen to experts" and "value constructive criticism." So, what was the result?
Several of these fledgling start-ups eschewed expert advice on naming, branding, marketing, product array and market research. They were willing to stick to their idea even if the facts were stacked against them. They were unwilling to alter their idea even a bit.
Some even refused tens of thousands of dollars in free design and brand work provided by the non-profit in order to crowd source a logo from their own ideas. So what happens when the Cult of Stubbornness kicks in?

Invariably many of these stubborn entrepreneurs will succeed. The road may be tough and they may burn through a lot of good people, but they will probably succeed. Many will fail. Many would fail with great collaborative efforts. The belief however, that they succeeded by being stubborn is a fallacy. The institutions that teach and reward this stubbornness should instead instill in these entrepreneurs the value of collaborative work. They should teach them how to identify great talent. How to hire quality branding and advertising agencies. How to stick to the core idea that is their own, while collecting and sorting customer data and feedback to make it better.

Entrepreneurs that bring a great idea to the table and then bring the right partners on to refine it will have the best chance at success.
Great entrepreneurial institutions like the Kauffman Foundation could refine their message to benefit the entrepreneur and the great support network that is there to help them launch. VC firms should also insist on this before investing.

That is my stubborn idea. 

No comments:

Post a Comment